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Family Affairs 

Minacapelli's Dinner Playhouse, 1540 Lindberg Drive, Slidell, (985) 781-6565; Me and my wife do everything." That's the way Rickie Luke sums up things at Minacapelli's Dinner Playhouse in Slidell. He isn't bragging. He's joking -- well, half joking. Luke is the proprietor, producer and artistic director. He also stages all the plays. Ginger, his wife of 31 years, does the cooking. But the family's pitching-in doesn't stop there. Danielle, Luke's daughter, waits tables. And 6-year-old Hannah, Luke's granddaughter, provides the intermission entertainment. She gets up onstage and sings, as she has since she was 3. This is clearly not a run-of-the-mill theater. A medieval family of mountebanks would feel right at home with this group.

Recently, I drove to Slidell and took my seat in the bustling log-cabin cabaret, where a full-house crowd enjoyed dinner, drinks and Dennis Andersen's 1971 American farce, Funny Valentines. Before I fill you in on the show, let me give you the skinny on how Luke and company fared in Katrina. The theater itself did not flood (although parts of the parking lot were waist deep in water), but wind tore up the place badly enough so that a new roof was necessary. Although, by Jan. 13, Minacapelli's was back in show business.

The real hurricane drama for Luke came at his "day job" at the Camellia Gardens Retirement Community, just a block from the theater. Five of the residents were too ill to leave. Luke climbed on the roof and made a huge sign aimed upward to notify helicopters of the problem. It worked. Now, there's a case of real-life drama putting stage drama to shame.

In any case, Funny Valentines is more about comedy than drama. The story follows Andy Robbins (Shawn Patterson), the illustrator of a successful series of children's books about a bear named Beanie. Robbins' agent, Howard Levy (Seth Trosclair), shows up with a contract from Intramedia -- a corporation that wants to adapt Beanie as an animated TV show. Much moolah will rain on Robbins, but there's a hitch: Ellen Robbins (Jennifer H. Patterson, Shawn's real-life wife) must sign on as well. Ellen was Andy's partner in the Beanie books -- in fact, she wrote them. She was also Andy's partner in marriage. As luck would have it, they are divorced and totally estranged. So the first plot of the play is truly a plot; namely, how can Andy get Ellen to sign the contract with Intramedia?

Remember, however, we are in Farce Land. The woman who shows up at Andy's door is not Ellen but Zan Wilkinson (Rebecca Sutherland), a representative from Intramedia. There is a coup de foudre, and Andy and Zan flip for each other. They move through their romantic gears at lightning speed. But the joys of consummation are denied this randy pair -- because, well, because otherwise we wouldn't have a farce. What happens, of course, is that ex-wife Ellen shows up.

So, Andy makes a date with Zan for later, while he tries to put the charm on Ellen, who is eight months pregnant with Andy's baby. Of course, Andy has a change of heart. He falls for Ellen all over again. But there is the complication of Zan, who arrives for the date/assignation wearing a black coat with nothing underneath but a skimpy (and kinky) get-up. She's even got a can of Redi Whip -- and it ain't for dessert, unless unprintable acts between consenting adults are on the menu.

To add to these strenuous imbroglios, Ellen's mother (Carla Constanza) shows up as well. At one point, things get so tangled that Ellen refuses to speak to Andy, except through her mother. Meanwhile, to smooth over the troubled waters, Andy introduces Zan as Howard's fiancŽe -- a ruse that proves prophetic.

Clearly, Funny Valentines is classic dinner-theater fare -- a merry, nonsensical confection. The cast is spirited and genial. If there are occasional moments of hesitancy and awkwardness, there are also many moments of delight. Jennifer H. Patterson, for instance, manages to slip a wry honesty into an emotionally convoluted comic role. And, after all, dinner theater is more about fun than finesse. And considering the popularity of this post-Katrina production, you should probably make reservations.

There may be those who have a mental block about crossing the lake for cultural events, even if it's quality theatrical productions such as these. But it should be noted that not only is the Northshore booming with entertaining fare, the twin span taking I-10 travelers over the lake has been repaired. So getting to Farce Land isn't nearly as difficult as you might think.

click to enlarge Farce Land: The cast of  Funny Valentines, - currently on the boards at Minacapelli's: Carla - Constanza, Shawn Patterson, Jennifer H. Patterson, Seth - Trosclair and Rebecca Sutherland  Funny Valentines - Starring Shawn Patterson, Jennifer H. Patterson
  • Farce Land: The cast of Funny Valentines, currently on the boards at Minacapelli's: Carla Constanza, Shawn Patterson, Jennifer H. Patterson, Seth Trosclair and Rebecca Sutherland Funny Valentines Starring Shawn Patterson, Jennifer H. Patterson


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